On a windy ridge during the Izhcayluma Loop hike near Vilcabamba.
A good climate, a fantastic location and a high enough (but not too high) altitude make Vilcabamba a lovely place in which to spend a few days. But however many days you plan to spend here, it just won't be enough. Vilcabamba is often called the Valley of Longevity as people living here supposedly have a higher life expectancy than average, with many living well beyond 100 years. We've heard stories of travellers settling down here permanently, seduced by Vilcabamba's laid back atmosphere and great location. A guy in our hotel mentioned someone he knew had planned to stay for 2 days...and ending up staying for a month! So was this all traveller talk or would Vilcabamba live up to expectations? We spent 4 days here trying to find out.
The journey from rainy Loja took just over an hour, and, after arriving in Vilcabamba, we had a quick coffee and look around the main square before taking a taxi to Hosteria Izhcayluma, 2 km south of town. I think part of what made our stay in Vilcabamba so special was this hosteria. After 9 months travel in South America we know all about the continent's hotels: we've stayed
in some bad hotels, some good hotels, but not many exceptional hotels. Hosteria Izhcayluma was, without a doubt, the nicest of the trip so far. And I don't expect it will be topped! It's run by two German guys, and is in a stunning location, overlooking the town, and lying close to the start of many excellent hikes. The views from the restaurant are fabulous while there is also a nice bar area, pool table, outdoor swimming pool, hammocks everywhere and beautiful gardens (they employ 6 gardeners). The restaurant is probably the best in town - we ate there every night after returning from our hikes, while the buffet breakfast was great too. And all this for only 28 USD per night for a double room! What I've described here makes Izhcayluma sound like a great place, but what really made it special for us was the hiking. Every guest is given a booklet containing satellite maps and descriptions of 6 hikes in the area. Many of these hikes were created by the hostel and if you're not staying here you probably won't find them yourself. They've even gone out and put up signposts and markings on the trail.
Hiking the San Jose trailHiking & Rainforests
An easy hike on our first day in Vilcabamba
Soon after arriving afternoon we attempted one of these hikes. As we didn't have too much time that day we picked one of the easier, shorter hikes - the San Jose Trail - which saw us follow a path through a creek and then climb high on an old road before circling back towards the hostel. It took us about two hours in all, and it was fairly easy going. We met some friendly local farmers, and enjoyed great views of Vilcabamba and the surrounding mountains.
A lovely evening spent lying in a hammock and drinking Mango Changos was just the preparation for our hike the following day to Cerro Mandango, Vilcabamba's best known mountain. We set off bright and early and the weather looked promising but after reaching the first cross the clouds had rolled in and it soon started raining heavily. The next part of the hike was along a steep and exposed ridge which would be very difficult in the rain so we had to turn back. I really don't like missing out on a summit but I think turning back in this case was the sensible option. The rain continued for the
afternoon so we went to see a bit of town while waiting for it to clear. By 3pm the sun was out again but we didn't really have time for a long hike so instead we went to visit the Rumi-Wilco reserve. I wasn't expecting much from this but it turned out to be a fantastic place to visit. The reserve is basically a rainforest and is part of the Rumi Wilco ecolodge, which allows visitors access for a small fee. We picked up a map at reception and set off along one of the many trails. It was far more of a wilderness than I expected. We followed the main path all the way around, finding it, in some remote places, completely overgrown. Our booklet mentioned spiders and snakes and I felt sure we would trample on a snake or two in the long grass.
We had a chat with the owner during our hike and told him about how overgrown the trail was. He said he hadn't been out there in a week and that the grass and plants grow too quick for him to keep up with. He also recommended we climb the Gully and Slope
Hotel Izhcayluma Flowers
Izhcayluma employs six gardeners - hence it's no surprise how immaculate the gardens were.
trails on our way back. This took us to very remote areas of the reserve and we encountered some rather scary looking spiders. Most of the time we didn't see them until we walked into the webs but in one particular area there was a group of spiders best described as big, mean and scary looking. We also saw the largest tree in Vilcabamba, and the largest San Pedro cactus in the region. The San Pedro cactus has hallucinogenic properties, and if you prepare it incorrectly it can make you go a little crazy. So another thing to add to our list of things we didn't but perhaps should have tried in South America!
We didn't encounter any snakes on the trail, unfortunately. Well, I can say unfortunately now as I write, but I would have been very scared had we met any on the path! Back in Izhcayluma we rounded off a good day with a swim, bottle of wine with dinner and more Mango Changos. I think this drink is a mixture of mango and rum - it was cheap and it was certainly strong! Most of the people we met in Izhcayluma were gringos so while
Relaxing in Vilcabamba
After a good day's hiking, there was nothing better than a relaxing dip in the pool at Hosteria Izhcayluma.
we weren't learning too much about Ecuador we were meeting some great people and having a good time. The Izhcayluma Loop
The morning of Day 3 found us attempting the the Izhcayluma loop, which turned out to be my favourite of all the hikes in the area. Expecting this to be tough I had an extra big breakfast (and that means a lot at an all you can eat!) before we set off. The hotel booklet suggested 5 hours for this hike but we seemed to be going very fast when we had done what appeared to be half the distance in an hour. But that was the easy half! The second part involved climbing from the road to a ridge and then following the very narrow ridge to a fairly high summit of about metres 2100 altitude. The top of the summit was marked by an antenna and we had views of three different valleys as well as of Vilcabamba in the distance. The ridge was very narrow and steep in places - I understood now why they told us not to hike this on a wet or windy day.
Getting down from the ridge to the
Breakfast in Hosteria Izhcayluma
A delicious breakfast and fantastic views on the terrace of Hosteria Izhcayluma
dried out river bed was an adventure in itself. Most of the path had been marked by blue paint on rocks but we lost these descending the ridge and ended up making our own we down. The riverbed was our goal but the path was very steep and we ended up following two donkeys down - bad idea as their four legs were better able to deal with the path. Finally we got to a gully and followed a stream down - the only problem was there was a 6 metre drop which we had to climb down. This was quite scary and involved a fair amount of improvised rock descending. We were very happy to make it to the riverbed in one piece, and that night in Izhcayluma I had an extra Mango Chango to settle the nerves.
We were supposed to leave Vilcabamba the next day and move on to Cuenca but the Vilcabamba magic seemed to be working on us too and we couldn't drag ourselves away. Our bags were packed, but sitting at breakfast looking out over the terrace we knew we couldn't leave just yet. I quite fancied another go at Cerro Mandango but
Vilcabamba's best known hike and summit is Cerro Mandango. A fairly straightforward path leads to the top, though we had to stop at the First Cross (right most peak) because of rain.
Ruth insisted we have a day off - and I think it was the right decision. We spent the day swimming, playing pool, table tennis, scrabble and sitting in a hammock. A perfect way to end our trip to a great destination.
Tot: 1.944s; Tpl: 0.02s; cc: 31; qc: 127; dbt: 0.0315s; 1; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.7mb